Grenfell Tower fire could result in corporate manslaughter charges

Grenfell Tower fire could result in corporate manslaughter charges
Posted at 5:28 AM, Jul 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-28 06:28:02-04

Campaigners for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire say individuals as well as local authorities should be held accountable for the disaster, after police confirmed there are "reasonable grounds" to pursue corporate manslaughter charges.

At least 80 people were killed in the disaster on June 14 when a blaze engulfed a residential tower block in North Kensington, London. To date, only 40 of the victims have been formally identified.

On Thursday, London's Metropolitan Police sent a letter addressed to those "directly affected by the fire" to update them on the progress of the investigation.

The letter, which has been seen by CNN, says police have "seized a huge amount of material" and after an "initial assessment" they believe there are "reasonable grounds" to suspect that the local council and the tenant management organization "may have committed the offense of corporate manslaughter."

"Our residents deserve answers about the Grenfell Tower fire and the police investigation will provide these. We fully support the Metropolitan Police Investigation and we will cooperate in every way we can," Elizabeth Campbell, the new leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, the group responsible for the management of the building, said in a statement sent to CNN.

"It would not be appropriate to comment further on matters subject to the police investigation," she added.

The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization told CNN in a statement, "Following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower, we made it an immediate priority to cooperate fully with the investigation process. We will continue to do so."

The police letter was not publicly released by police, but was sent to CNN by the former chairman of the Grenfell Residents' Association, David Collins, who says the letter shows "progress, a move in the right direction."

Campaign group Justice4Grenfell "welcomes" the letter, according to a statement released Thursday, but adds that the police should go further by ensuring that individuals involved are also "named, charged and put on trial."

Under UK law, individuals cannot be charged with corporate manslaughter, only companies or organizations, and the maximum punishment is a fine. Individuals can be criminally charged under separate statutes of gross negligence manslaughter. But, as of now, no criminal charges have been filed.

"A fine would not represent justice for the Grenfell victims and their families," David Lammy, a British lawmaker whose friend Khadija Saye perished in the fire, said on his official Twitter account.

"Gross negligence manslaughter carries a punishment of prison time and I hope that the police and the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) are considering charges of manslaughter caused by gross negligence," Lammy added.

Police say their investigation is ongoing.

"The Met started an investigation into the cause and spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June. Since then we have stated that it is a criminal investigation, considering the full range of offences from corporate manslaughter to regulatory breaches," the Metropolitan Police said in a Metropolitan Police statement obtained by CNN. "This is a complex and far reaching investigation that by its very nature will take a considerable time to complete."

Several leading figures of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which has been criticized for its handling of the tragedy's aftermath, have resigned from their posts. The UK government even appointed a task force to take over parts of the council.

Some residents of Grenfell Tower say they had made multiple complaints to the council about the fire safety of the building.

A few days after the disaster, the UK Treasury Secretary Philip Hammond said he believed that the cladding, or insulation, apparently used in a recent refurbishment of the building is banned in Britain for buildings above a certain height.

Samples of insulation from the tower and equivalent aluminum composite tiles sent by police for analysis have failed safety tests, according to Detective Chief Superintendent Fiona McCormack from the Metropolitan Police.

The government is conducting a full public inquiry into the disaster, and British Prime Minister Theresa May apologized for what she called "a failure of the state."

"Trust in the authorities across the entire community has been seriously undermined by events since the fire, to say nothing of everything that happened in the years before the disaster," the Justice4Grenfell statement says.

"This announcement will go someway towards the rebuilding of trust."